Argentina stalls, Britain frets

By , Latin America correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Argentina is a bewildered nation - confused, troubled, frustrated, and angry.

Its leaders seem unable to face up to defeat in the Falklands, unwilling to bring to an end the undeclared state of war with Britain.

Its people -- uninformed of the Falklands surrender but reading it between the lines of official announcements -- are beginning the search for someone to blame.

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Widespread public anger spilled over into the streets at midweek as violent demonstrations wracked Buenos Aires. For a time Tuesday evening, police were unable to control angry mobs that turned the Plaza de Mayo, in front of the Casa Rosada (the Argentine White House), into a battle zone.

In the coffeehouses that dot this city, along fashionable shopping streets like Calle Florida, in front of newspaper kiosks, and in parks -- just about anywhere that Argentines congregate -- there are angry people unable to accept, much less understand, the battle losses in the Falklands.

The anger is turned more and more at the government of President Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri, whose days appear numbered. Shouting mobs in front of the Casa Rosada hurled bitter, obscene words at him. These words are probably only the tip of the iceberg of frustrated feelings felt by Argentines who never expected the Argentine seizure of the Falklands April 2 to end so humiliatingly.

Military sources say bitter struggles are now under way within the military high command over the leadership. There are strong hints that the survivability of the present military junta, headed by General Galtieri, has about run its course.

''What holds us back from kicking (Galtieri) out,'' said an Army colonel, ''is we don't know who to put in his place.''

Those in the military who want to get rid of General Galtieri are no more able to admit defeat in the Falklands than he is.

This inability to accept the loss of the Falklands and the end of the war makes for an uneasy situation on the island. The British insist that they cannot care properly for the Argentine prisoners of war while also having to defend themselves against the possibility of continued Argentine sea or air attacks. And London is reluctant to return all the prisoners while a de facto state of war continues.

What the victorious British may not realize is that many Argentines tend to try to find others to blame for their problems. In this case, the collective wrath of Argentines appears focused not only on their own military leaders but also the United States for backing Britain.

Meanwhile, the British in victory are being warned by Argentina that if they try to set up ''a colonialist regime'' on the Falklands, they will destroy the prospects for overall peace. The British are being told that Argentina will, with the help of ''all decent people in the world,'' as one paper put it, return to take the islands from Britain eventually ''and prove that the enemy was wrong in the first place.''

It is London, too, that still is blamed for failing, in Argentine eyes, to negotiate on the future of the islands. The British are the ones who are seen here as being guilty of allowing blood to be spilled in fighting.

Nowhere is there any admission that Argentina may have been misguided in seizing the Falklands in the first place. After all, the Falklands, which Argentines call the Malvinas, are regarded here as an integral part of the Argentine nation.

In the Argentine view -- expressed in bitter, angry, and vindictive words again Tuesday by Foreign Minister Nicanor Costa Mendez -- the islands are Argentine and anybody disagreeing does not know what he is talking about. Even on Wednesday the junta was sticking to its demand for negotiations with Britain on sovereignty over the islands.

(The Noticias Argentinas news agency reportedly quotes government sources as saying that Costa Mendez and some other Cabinet-level officials offered their resignations to General Galtieri, who refused them.)

The Argentine nation has not even been officially told that the fighting has ended, other than General Galtieri's admission that the battle at Port Stanley was over. But Argentines read easily between the lines. And anyway, there have been no military communiques for more than 36 hours -- communiques that even Monday were claiming Argentine victories.

The Argentine nation knows that their troops on the island - now disclosed to have numbered close to 15,000, almost twice the number originally estimated -- have stopped fighting. They know little else. And this adds to the frustration.

But the Galtieri government has been too busy trying to hold on to power to pay attention to properly informing a confused populace. The best it had been able to do at time of writing was to talk of a cease-fire.

And Tuesday night, in his angry, 12-minute, shouted address to the nation, President Galtieri merely admitted that ''the battle for Puerto Argentino (the Argentines name for Port Stanley, the Falklands capital) is over.''

In his nationwide television and radio address, he showed the current strain. He was sharply critical of Britain and the United States -- accusing the latter of being ''a surprising enemy.''

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